Governing Diaspora: Tibetans in Exile in India

Firstly, as a Tibetan who was born and raised in the U.S., it is an honor to serve my community through the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and I would like to express my gratitude to the AIF Clinton Fellowship for providing this platform.

CTA is a complex and expansive institution serving north of a hundred thousand beneficiaries spread out all across India, Nepal, and the diasporic community around the world [1]. For future AIF Fellows, and others interested, I am sharing a brief overview of my Fellowship host organization to help provide some of the context you’ll need to better understand and engage with the CTA.

Background: Tibetans in Exile in India

When His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced out of his homeland, the Government of India welcomed him and more than 80,000 Tibetan refugees who followed their leader [2]. India provided land in various states where these refugees could form exile settlements, many of which are thriving communities to this day [3]. Upon arrival, the Dalai Lama established an exile Tibetan Administration– a continuation of the government system found in Independent Tibet [4]. Though not officially recognized as a sovereign government, its structure and functioning reflect that of any modern democratic government [5]. Today, the Tibetan exile population is around 100,000 in India and upwards of 50,000 in the rest of the world [6]. The CTA is an elected administration that politically represents the Tibetan population and serves to rehabilitate and advance the Tibetan exile community [7].

The Central Tibetan Administration is located in Dharamsala, a North Indian hill station nestled in the Himalayan valleys.

CTA Structure: Democratic Representation in Exile

The Central Tibetan Administration is based in the town of Dharamshala in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. It is comprised of three branches: an executive branch or the “Kashag” (headed by a democratically elected President), a Judiciary, and a legislative Parliament [8].

There are 7 major departments of CTA: Religion & Culture, Home, Finance, Security, Education, Health, and Information & International Relations [9]. In addition to these departments there is a 46-member Tibetan Parliament — a representative, and elected legislative body that holds session twice a year [10].

In addition to these departments, there are three autonomous entities embedded within the CTA. An Independent Election Commission conducting and overseeing free and fair elections [11]; a Public Service Commission responsible for all aspects relating to the recruitment, training, and appointment of CTA civil servants [12]; and the Office of Auditor General to audit and scrutinize the financial management of all organizations under the CTA [13].


SARD’s Work: Social Development for Tibetans in Exile

The Social and Resource Development fund (SARD) is an NGO housed under the Department of Finance. It was registered in 1997 as a non-profit organization to mobilize resources and support development efforts of Tibetans living in South Asia [14]. SARD coordinates and oversees a large number of the programs executed under the CTA – some housed in their respective departments and others, branched directly under SARD such as Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development (TED) [15]. It coordinates with large institutional donors, acting as a nodal agency that carries out donor reporting, program design, project implementation, and program evaluation [16].

Carpet-weaving, artisanal handicrafts, and agricultural activity are common forms of livelihood found in the Tibetan settlements.

Impact: Entrepreneurship and Community

SARD pushes to advance Tibetan communities in a wide range of development areas including but not limited to education, agriculture, cultural preservation, governance, entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, health, and capacity building for Tibetan refugees.

There are a number of branches of SARD such as Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development (TED), Women’s Empowerment Desk (WED), and Tibet Corps, which are the program implementers and working in the field to execute the projects SARD runs [17]. A few highlights from SARD run programs include:

  • After a successful pilot program providing micro-loans to Tibetan Sweater Sellers (a mainstay income for 70% of the refugee community) returning 100% on-time repayment rate of principal and interest, SARD has scaled efforts to increase access to enterprise finance and launched a Non-Banking Financial Corporation to provide more lending products [18]
  • A Tibetan Medicare System providing health care and coverage to over 24,000 members enrolled. [19]
  • Early Grade Reading (EGR) workshops given to school leaders from 20 different schools in North India to provide foundational early childhood care and teaching skills. [20]
  • Seed investments totaling 36.15 lakhs INR to 12 Tibetan entrepreneurs along with ongoing business support and resources. [21]
  • Gender sensitization workshops delivered to over 80 Tibetan high school and college students creating awareness regarding sexual and gender-based violence. [22]
  • Continued scaling of a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team working to integrate critical impact metrics to identify growth, gaps, and provide actionable insights from the project design stage. [23]


Reflections: Paving the Way for the Future

A large part of the work of SARD thus far has been coordinating between its donors and the CTA’s various departments and internal branches to mobilize funding into implemented development programs. Much of these funds come from aid agencies and other institutional donors, leaving CTA’s operational budget subject to a high level of exposure to donor attitudes. As CTA strives to diversify their revenue streams, SARD plays an increasingly pivotal role piloting and scaling innovative and sustainable initiatives that serve this broader goal. It’s a dynamic and exciting time to work with SARD as it looks to continually ideate, iterate, and refine on models that produce both social and monetary returns that will allow CTA to continue providing critical services addressing the needs of the Tibetan population. In the next blog, I will share more about my AIF Fellowship project with the CTA.


  1. “About CTA: Tibet in Exile.” Central Tibetan Administration, 2019.
  2. “On This Day, 31 March 1959: Dalai Lama Escapes to India.” BBC, 2019.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “About CTA” Central Tibetan Administration, 2019.
  5. Ibid.
  6. “Ready to Talk to China. Interview: Lobsang Sangay, President, Central Tibetan Administration.” The Week, 6 July 2019.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “About CTA” Central Tibetan Administration, 2019.
  9. “Contact CTA.” Central Tibetan Administration, 2019.
  10. “About CTA: Legislature – The Tibetan Parliament in Exile.” Central Tibetan Administration, 2019.
  11. “About CTA: Elections – The Election Commission.” Central Tibetan Administration, 2019.
  12. “About CTA: Public Service Commission.” Central Tibetan Administration, 2019.
  13. “About CTA: OAG – The Office of the Auditor General.” Central Tibetan Administration, 2019.
  14. “About Us: Mission Vision.” Social and Resource Development Fund, 2019.
  15. “Our Work: Entrepreneurship Development.” Social and Resource Development Fund, 2019.
  16. Ibid.
  17. “Our Work.” Social and Resource Development Fund, 2019.
  18. Social and Resource Development Fund. SARD Report 2017-18. Sept 15, 2019. Page 12.
  19. Social and Resource Development Fund. SARD Report 2017-18. Sept 15, 2019. Page 19.
  20. Social and Resource Development Fund. SARD Report 2017-18. Sept 15, 2019. Page 26.
  21. Social and Resource Development Fund. SARD Report 2017-18. Sept 15, 2019. Page 27.
  22. Social and Resource Development Fund. SARD Report 2017-18. Sept 15, 2019. Page 30.
  23. Social and Resource Development Fund. SARD Report 2017-18. Sept 15, 2019. Page 5.


Chenam is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. For his Fellowship project, he is setting up an incubation center to increase entrepreneurship and small enterprise growth among Tibetan refugee settlements to foster thriving local economies. Chenam is a first generation Tibetan-American from the Washington DC area. He is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia's Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy where he co-founded a lifestyle snack company (Tsampa Snacks) aimed at introducing mindfulness into daily life. During his time there, he was also a researcher at the Darden Institute of Business in Society and served in the Tibet Corps conducting policy analysis on nomadic resettlement efforts in China. Since graduating, he has worked at a market research consulting company in New York City and on the weekends, enjoys volunteering at Yindayin, an educational non-profit that provides a holistic approach to education for immigrant and refugee children in the greater Queens area. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, Chenam will be working with the CTA's Social and Resilience Development Fund to help build entrepreneurial capacities in Tibetan communities and helping scale existing farmers and enterprises in exile settlements around India.

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